Hungarian government proposes bill to ban legal gender recognition amid COVID chaos
Late in the evening on March 31, 2020, coincidentally on the International Transgender Visibility Day, the Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister filed an omnibus bill, which would make legal gender recognition in Hungary impossible.
The bill would amend the Registry Act and replace the word “nem,” which in Hungarian can mean both “sex” and “gender”, with the word “születési nem” (“birth sex”) defining it as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes.” According to the bill, the birth sex, once recorded, cannot be amended. This might also impact those who had their gender recognised in the last two decades; possibly resulting in the reversal of previously issued documents including new birth certificates.
"The proposal deprives every Hungarian transgender person of the opportunity to ever use their documents without fear in their life," commented Dr. Zsófia A. Szabó, Member of the Prizma Transgender Community. "If the proposed bill is adopted, a transgender person will risk discrimination every time they are required to present their identity documents, since it will include the "sex at birth" recorded on the basis of scientifically outdated criteria, not the gender they identify and live as.”
The bill comes at a time when Hungary (and the whole world) is preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis. In fact, one day before the bill was proposed, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a law granting PM Orbán the power to govern by decrees without a time limit. There is legally no-one except the Constitutional Court to control the government, which has been filled with Orbán-supporter judges since his election in 2010.
Banning legal gender recognition clearly violates international human rights norms, and the consistent case law of the European Court of Human Rights. It also contradicts the consistent practice of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, that ruled in 2005, 2007 and 2018 (in 2018 unanimously) that the legal gender and name change for transgender people are a fundamental human right.
Hungary had a relatively progressive practice on legal gender recognition since the late 1990s requiring only medical diagnosis, but no medical interventions or real life experience, but this was never codified in law. In 2014, some aspects of the procedure were regulated in the ministerial decree on registry procedures, but it left most of the key questions (Who can apply for legal gender recognition? What kind of medical opinions are needed? Who makes the final decision?) unanswered. In 2016 the ombuds issued a report requiring the procedure to be regulated properly in law. The government promised to come up with new legislation, but instead suspended processing all LGR requests. For a few months before the elections in 2018 the processing of LGR requests were resumed according to the old procedure, to be suspended yet again in May 2018. In recent months several courts declared the suspension unlawful, and ordered the authorities to resume processing the requests. Instead of abiding by the courts’ decisions, the government proposed a bill to ban legal gender recognition altogether.
According to a Median representative survey conducted in September 2019, an overwhelming majority of Hungarians disagree with the government's proposed amendment to the law: only 17% of respondents believed that trans people could under no circumstances change their gender or name in their papers; while 70% of respondents would ensure legal gender recognition and name change; only 13% had no opinion on the issue.
Legal gender recognition is the baseline of the safety of transgender persons in Hungary. Without the ability to legally change their gender marker, they face harsh workplace and healthcare discrimination, have to explain themselves every time they present their university degree, can be accused of stealing when they use their credit cards and questioned whenever they use their ID to pick up a package from the post office. With the possibility of losing the opportunity for changing their gender marker, transgender persons, already being one of the most vulnerable minorities in Hungary, are threatened with numerous faces of discrimination. This bill threats with rising rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among the transgender community, and on the other hand, is completely useless. Besides making transgender people the enemy in the public eye, the bill has absolutely no merit or positive effect in any capacity.